Sotheby’s Sale of Contemporary Art

Sotheby’s sale of Contemporary Art on the evening of Wednesday, November 12, 2003 will feature masterworks by some of the most important post-war artists including Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Arshile Gorky, Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter and Jean-Michel Basquiat. At the core of the sale are eleven works from the Estate of Vera G. List, the noted collector and philanthropist, with artists such as Agnes Martin, Martin Puryear, Lee Bontecou and Ed Ruscha represented. An exhibition will be held in advance of the sale, November 8-12.

“With an outstanding 1959 work by de Kooning, perhaps the best Ed Ruscha canvas, a classic masterpiece by Martin and a frenetic double portrait by Basquiat, this is truly one of the most impressive sales of Contemporary Art we’ve offered over the past decade,” commented Tobias Meyer, head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art department. “The works come from many important private collections and estates with one consistent underlying theme: outstanding quality.”

Chief among the highlights is Willem de Kooning’s monumental abstraction, Spike’s Folly I, an oil on canvas from 1959. Originally purchased by legendary Contemporary collectors Ethel and Robert Scull from the Sidney Janis Gallery, this work stands as one of de Kooning’s greatest paintings from the late 1950’s. From the artist’s celebrated group of abstract landscapes, this work demonstrates the artist’s dazzling technique, brushwork and use of color. It is estimated to sell for $10/15 million.

Also featured is Mark Rothko’s devastatingly beautiful No. 8 (White Stripe) which is estimated to sell for $8/10 million. This large-format canvas from 1958 illustrates the artist’s absolute authority over color, surface, texture and composition. The rich tones of rose and wine seem to have soaked into the canvas achieving a finish akin to the effects of watercolor bleeding into paper, while the white stripe between the amorphous, evanescent forms radiates with energy. This work resonates with the artist’s desire to create an art that is beyond the very boundaries of painting, encompassing a transcendent, deeply affecting relationship between the viewer and the object.

Sotheby’s evening sale of Contemporary Art will begin with eleven works from the Estate of Vera G. List. Commenting on the collector, Tobias Meyer noted, “Vera List was a true collector in every sense of the word. She not only had the direct access and financial resources to acquire the best works, she was guided by an incredible passion and an outstanding eye for quality.”

Vera G. List, who passed away in October of 2002, was a dedicated art collector and lifelong philanthropist who focused her efforts on such causes as Contemporary Art, opera, education and social justice. Awarded the National Medal of the Arts by President Bill Clinton in 1996, she was a driving force behind the establishment of the New Museum of Contemporary Art and, together with her husband Albert A. List, created art centers at Brown University, M.I.T. and Swarthmore, as well as art-lending programs and the List Art Posters program at Lincoln Center. Additionally, the generosity of the Lists aided the construction of Lincoln Center and paid for much of the Center’s art. Additionally, 53 works will be offered in Sotheby’s sale of Contemporary Art on Thursday, November 13. Among the artists included are Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt, Marisol, Kenneth Noland, Claes Oldenburg, Joel Shapiro. Sotheby’s will also offer Property from the Estate of Vera G. List next year in London and New York, including paintings, prints, photographs and other works of art.

“Art enriched Vera List’s life and she sought to enrich the lives of others through her many efforts and contributions,” commented Leslie Prouty, Senior Vice President of Sotheby’s Contemporary department. “Together with her husband, Albert A. List who died in 1987, Vera assembled a collection of impressive range over a span of more than fifty years. Beginning with a focus on American and European sculpture of the fifties and sixties, Vera kept pace with the art world around her, viewing art as a reflection of its time.”

Among the highlights is Agnes Martin’s Leaves, an acrylic and pencil on canvas from 1966, which Mrs. List acquired from the Robert Elkon Gallery in November of that year. Leaves is a masterpiece from Martin’s first group of classic paintings which employed the geometric shapes of square and rectangle to obtain an impersonal detachment and create an intellectual artistic format. The result in this painting is an abstract ’sublime’ that conveys a sense of light, atmosphere and purity in a minimalist vocabulary. This work is estimated to sell for $1.8/2.2 million. The offering also includes three other works by Martin, including an Untitled painting from circa 1961 (est. $250/350,000), and and ink and grey wash on paper entitled Wood, executed 1964-66 (est. $80/120,000).

Sculpture was of central importance to Mrs. List’s collection, and the offering features two works by Martin Puryear, including Untitled from 1987. Estimated at $350/450,000, this evocative sculpture in tar, steel mesh, pine and Douglas fir achieves a purity of form and an affinity for material that evokes the spiritual nature of art. Also included is Portrait (Vera List) by George Segal (est. $100/150,000) which was executed in 1965, and Lee Bontecou’s Untitled in welded steel, canvas, fabric and copper wire from 1959-1960 (est. $50/70,000).

Not Only Securing the Last Letter, But Damaging It as Well (Boss), an oil on canvas by Ed Ruscha from 1964 (est. $1.8/2.2 million), is a groundbreaking example of the artist’s early monosyllabic word paintings. Upon a dark black/blue ground that contains gentle ripples of oil paint, the artist has both ’painted’ and ’written’ the word ’Boss’ in orange. This bold gesture shows the influence of Jasper Johns, and expands the boundaries of the Pop Art movement. What’s most significant, however, is the trompe l’oeil effect of ’squeezing’ the last letter between two vises, thus implying motion or action as described in the title of the work.

Jean Dubuffet’s Fenêtre sur le Ciel, executed in 1955 in Vence, rounds out the selection of works from the List Collection by presenting the viewer with a frontally constructed, charming image in which the landscape has been reduced to a patchwork quilt. The human figure, appearing in the window, is simplified to its basic contours. This work is estimated to bring $500/700,000.

Other works among those from various owners span the postwar period beginning with a mature work by Arshile Gorky. Painted in 1945, Portrait of Y.D. (est. $3/4 million), exhibits a refinement and purity of line and form which developed in the artist’s later works. Also included is a triptych by Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud. Bacon and Freud met in 1945 and quickly became friends. Freud was a common subject for Bacon from the 1950s to the 1970s, and the present example, painted in 1965 and estimated to sell for $2.5/3.5 million, depicts Freud’s likeness with extraordinary verisimilitude while displaying the artist’s energetic and loaded brushwork.

With his Oxidation Paintings, Andy Warhol claimed new artistic territory in the late 1970s. These elegant, abstract canvases were created by the oxidization of uric acid on metallic paint. Included in this sale is a large-scale work from 1978 which is estimated to sell for $2.2/2.8 million. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Two Heads on Gold) is one of the artist’s most powerful compositions and certainly one of the most important works to ever come to auction (est. $2.5/3.5 million). While not designated a self-portrait, this 1982 work shares many of the same attributes, and shows the artist in dialogue with himself, lending the painting both a physical and psychological thrust.

Gerhard Richter’s contribution to the theory and practice of painting in the second half of the twentieth century marks him as one of the most influential artists of his time. In Zwei Kerzen (Two Candles) from 1983, estimated at $2.5/3.5 million, two candles dominate the composition and serve as a vehicle in the exploration into the role of light in painting. This work is indeed a masterpiece of tonal interplay, executed with a stunning refinement of technique and a rare impact of vision.

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Published in: on October 21, 2003 at 1:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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